Monday, August 27, 2012

Between Awe and Joy -Berachot 22b and 30b

A few days ago on Berachot 22b, the Gemara presents an analogy between Torah study and the experience at Har Sinai. The Gemara states that just like we approached the Revelation at Sinai with אימה, יראה, רתת, ובזיע, with dread, fear, trembling, and quacking, so too we should approach daily Torah study with the same reverence and awe. I asked on Twitter how we can reconcile this with the the verses from Tehillim 19: תּוֹרַת ה' תְּמִימָה, מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ... פִּקּוּדֵי ה’ יְשָׁרִים, מְשַׂמְּחֵי-לֵב. The Torah of Hashem is pure, it calms the soul...  The laws of Hashem are upright, they make the heart happy. In Psalms there is a clear association between Torah study and שמחה, happiness, while the Gemara in Berachot based on verses from Devarim 4 presents one's approach to Torah study to be one of fear and dread.

At first thought, one could explain that this is another example of the 2 different types of יראה, fear and awe which I have blogged about in the past. However, here the יראה experience is coupled with אימה רתת ובזיע, dread, trembling, and quacking. This awe inspiring experience is much closer to "awe"ful than "awe"some and seems to focus on true fear when approaching Torah learning which is hard to reconcile with joy.

After posing this question, I received responses from a number of my fellow #DafChat participants. You can find these responses here, and here, and here. I would like to focus on one response in particular by Shimon Lerner, a frequent guest poster to this blog, who suggested that this is similar to "וגילו ברעדה" in davening which can be found on Berachot 30b.

The Gemara there analyzes the verse from Tehillim 2, עִבְדוּ אֶת-ה’ בְּיִרְאָה; וְגִילוּ, בִּרְעָדָה, serve Hashem with awe and rejoice with trembling. The Gemara explains that in the place of rejoicing there should also be trembling. This Gemara seems to find no contradiction between rejoicing and trembling, between awe and dread on the one hand and happiness on the other.

The Rif on the Ein Yaakov expands this to describe both prayer and Torah study as Shimon Lerner had anticipated. He explains that one should always approach one's service to G-d, whether in the form of prayer, Torah study, or other mitzvot with level headedness and seriousness. This is despite the fact that it also says (Tehillim 100) עִבְדוּ אֶת-ה’ בְּשִׂמְחָה, to serve Hashem with happiness. One should approach G-d with joy but this joy should never get out of hand, leading to levity. It should always be tempered by trembling.

This is perhaps the meaning of Berachot 22b as well. One should approach every day of Torah learning with the same dread and awe as the original revelation at Sinai. However, this does not mean that one cannot and should not take pleasure in learning. Torah was meant to give us joy. However, when approached with an initial level of seriousness, we can be assured that the joy of Torah will always be in a respectful fashion and will never descend to levity and silliness.

This is something to think about especially as we approach the new school year.  As a Rebbe, I want my students to have fun in my class but fun alone is not enough. My students need to gain from the experience. This can only occur when they show a healthy dose of respect and seriousness for what is being studied. 

Happiness without reverence can quickly descend into silliness. At the same time, reverence without joy will rarely create an atmosphere where students will like what they are learning and begin to pursue a path towards life-long Torah study. It is the job of the teacher to strike a healthy balance between these two opposing but important values.

No comments:

Post a Comment